During last night’s game, I was forcibly reminded of just why I love the game of baseball so much. Everything great about the game was right there, on the field. You had a surprise hero, in the person of Anthony Reyes, the orphan child of the rotation. You had a timely hitting performance from the Cardinals’ new third baseman, Troy Glaus. You had solid, sometimes spectacular defense from both sides. Most of all, though, you had the beauty of two great rivals, St. Louis and Houston, neither of whom may be at their best at this moment, battling each other as if everything hung in the balance.
The same game, though, also reminded me of a tough lesson that I have yet to properly learn.
It’s a long season. One game is not everything.
When that last Jason Isringhausen curveball popped into the mitt of Jason LaRue, I celebrated. I jumped up and down and laughed like a madman. Then I realized, much to my dismay, that the Cardinals are 6-2.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The fact that they’re 6-2 is fantastic. Nothing could make me happier than to see this flawed squad of players, whom I didn’t give much of a chance at the season’s outset, off to a winning start. It’s obviously better than the alternative. But they’ve played only 8 games. That’s almost exactly one twentieth of the season. My celebrations seem awfully premature when put in that context.
Then I thought of just how I live and die with this team, for 162 games, for six months of the year. And I began to see why people love the NFL so much. I don’t mean that facetiously, either. I’m being completely serious.
Over the years, baseball has seen its popularity wane, even as football has become the new National Pastime. I think it says a lot about our culture that this is so, and I saw the pattern of it last night. I celebrated because the team that I love is 6-2. If this were football, that would be an excellent half of a season, putting the team on pace to finish 12-4. But this isn’t football. It’s baseball. 6-2 means nothing.
We’re not big-picture people. I’m every bit as guilty of it as the next person. We want to overreact to every little thing that happens on the field. When presented with the leisurely pace of a 162-game schedule, modern man struggles with it. Perspective is still lost, night after night, for six long months. The NFL schedule, by contrast, is only 16 games long. Every one game there is like 10 for baseball. You can react as if every loss is the end of the season, because every game is much more important. The rest of the week, life is lived, deadlines are met, children are fed, television is watched, sex is had. One day a week, you get all the spectacle of an NFL event. Never mind the violence and the vulgarity of it; it’s important, damn it!
You can overreact all you want, satisfy your craving for drama, for import, because it only happens 16 times. Baseball, on the other hand, requires a perspective.
Every day, for six months of the year, you can get in your car, to head out for dinner, and find a baseball game on the radio. Every night, you can sit down, turn on the television, and find a game being played somewhere. What reasonable human can possibly remain interested in such a long season, with so many small, incremental movements, in the context of hectic, hurrying, life?
We love the NCAA tournament, but we rarely watch college basketball the rest of the year. We love the immediate gratification, the knowledge that one of these two teams will not play another game after this. For the same reasons, football has become our national sport, a concentrated dose of drama and violence, ripe for instantaneous reaction. Baseball requires patience, a trait that isn’t found in great quantities in most of us today.
I love baseball for the timely hitting, the unlikely heroes, the sound of a ball popping into a glove. But just as much as all of those things, and maybe even more, I love it because every so often, I actually learn something when I watch.